You gotta believe

I apologize for the delay in posting. The past few weeks have been hectic; will write about them soon. Until then, here is a column I wrote recently. Feedback is appreciated! 🙂

Prabhudev Konana, a distinguished professor at the University of Texas, Austin recently wrote: “India is a land of contradictions where wealth is juxtaposed with abject poverty; excellence is embedded within inefficiencies and rampant corruption; and the first world infrastructure of leading firms is closeted within pathetic public infrastructure.” 1

Seventy-seven percent of Indians live on less than Rs. 20 ($ .43) per day. To combat this poverty, the Indian government is executing its 11th 5-year plan. Yet, such governmental ventures—that is, plans 1-10th—are often ill-equipped and mismanaged. The Indian government neither guides nor compels the country, as P.S. Appu, former Chief Secretary of Biahr, argues. 2

In a recent reporting by the International Food Policy Research Institute, India was ranked 67 out of 88 developing countries on the Global Hunger Index. 3

The myriad problems currently plaguing India are expansive and invasive. So, why do anything? What is the point? When you are in the field—the village or the city—and working within the miasma of India’s intractable problems, asking yourself such questions is common. My answer: I believe.

I believe that there is opportunity in India; I believe that India’s youth has endless potential; I believe that the communities that shackle individuals can also empower them; I believe that the same hands that gave rise to the Green Revolution can give rise to the Industrial Revolution; I believe that through hard work—regardless of whether you are a farmer or a chai-wala—you can achieve.

These beliefs are not foolhardy. Thomas Friedman recently commented on India’s entrepreneurial spirit and frugal innovation: “If you thought the rate of change was fast thanks to the garage innovators of Silicon Valley, wait until the garages of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore get fully up to speed.” 4 In a special report by The Economist, the authors’ expand Friedman’s argument by noting India’s young demography and India’s firms becoming global and world-class. 5 Perhaps its these sentiments that persuaded President Obama to state, “For in Asia and around the world, India is not simply emerging; India has emerged.” 6

Volunteering at Manzil (www.manzil.in) and working with youth, I see at the grass-roots level the India that Friedman, The Economist and Obama are talking about. There is opportunity. For instance, last year three of Manzil’s students were selected to study abroad in the US; ten have applied for the same program this year. Six Manzil students are trying to become involved in an entrepreneurship program that provides mentorship and funding; the youngest entrepreneur being only 19 years old. Manzil is sending three students to Kolkata in the coming month for a conference that aggregates youth from across India and provides a venue for discussion.

Some personal stories from Manzil: Neeraj, a guitarist, completes weekly workshops with slum children on self-expression through music. Rahul, a student-teacher at Manzil, goes to school and is aspiring to become a cricketer.  Reshmi, a former hospital nurse, acts in plays that address health literacy in slums. Yash, a student, is fluent in English and Hindi and knows more about computer soft- and hardware than I do. The best part: Yash is only 8 years old!

Now, for every student mentioned above there are others that don’t have the passion to achieve. However, don’t confuse this lack of passion with a lack of potential. Each student has potential. The potential is here and so is the opportunity, as implicit from the above stories. The missing link is that the students gotta believe in the opportunity. And, in-order to get the students to believe, one has to believe in the opportunity themselves. I believe.

In the morning, it’s not thinking of India’s 8% per annum economic growth-rate that gets me going. It’s thinking of Manzil’s students: their vibrancy, their talent, their potential.  I believe in these students and I believe that one day they’ll believe in the opportunity, and because of this, I believe in India.

Work Cited

1. Konana P. The land of opportunity. The Hindu. 05 Nov 2010.

2. Appu PS. Deprivation and disparities. The Hindu. 05 Nov 2010.

3. von Grebmer K, Ruel MT, Menon P, Nestorova B. Global Hunger Index: International Food Policy Research Institute;2010.

4. Friedman T. Do Believe the Hype. The New York Times. 12 Nov 2010.

5. Economist T. A bumpier but freer road. The Economist. 30 Sep 2010.

6. Obama B. Remarks by the President to the Joint Session of the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, India. 08 Nov 2010.

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About Ranjodh Singh
I'm currently an Ally in the Public Allies New York Apprenticeship (www.publicallies.org). Through the apprenticeship, I'm partnered with NYCRx (www.nyxrc.org), a nonprofit organization that improves the health of New Yorkers using public health interventions. I'm excited to continue serving, but doing so closer to health and medicine. I'm also enjoying NYC, which I find to be an enriching environment.

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